Humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

David Hume (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

According to Hume, the proper goal of philosophy is simply to explain why we ( Enquiry IV i) Relations of ideas are beliefs grounded wholly on associations. The relation between the Treatise and the Enquiries; 3. When he applied for the Chair of Ethics and Pneumatical (“Mental”) Philosophy at. Space; Time; Necessary Connection between Causes and Effects; External .. Much of Hume's epistemology is driven by a consideration of philosophically.

One centers on what we call induction.

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

Our judgments based on past experience all contain elements of doubt; we are then impelled to make a judgment about that doubt, and since this judgment is also based on past experience it will in turn produce a new doubt. Once again, though, we are impelled to make a judgment about this second doubt, and the cycle continues.

One is our natural inclination to believe that we are directly seeing objects as they really are, and the other is the more philosophical view that we only ever see mental images or copies of external objects.

The third contradiction involves a conflict between causal reasoning and belief in the continued existence of matter. After listing these contradictions, Hume despairs over the failure of his metaphysical reasoning: The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another [Treatise, 1.

He then pacifies his despair by recognizing that nature forces him to set aside his philosophical speculations and return to the normal activities of common life.

He sees, though, that in time he will be drawn back into philosophical speculation in order to attack superstition and educate the world. However, during the course of his writing the Treatise his view of the nature of these contradictions changed. At first he felt that these contradictions were restricted to theories about the external world, but theories about the mind itself would be free from them, as he explains here: The essence and composition of external bodies are so obscure, that we must necessarily, in our reasonings, or rather conjectures concerning them, involve ourselves in contradictions and absurdities.

But as the perceptions of the mind are perfectly known, and I have us'd all imaginable caution in forming conclusions concerning them, I have always hop'd to keep clear of those contradictions, which have attended every other system [Treatise, 2. When composing the Appendix to the Treatise a year later, he changed his mind and felt that theories about the mind would also have contradictions: I had entertained some hopes, that however deficient our theory of the intellectual world might be, it wou'd be free from those contradictions, and absurdities, which seem to attend every explication, that human reason can give of the material world.

But upon a more strict review of the section concerning I find myself involv'd in such a labyrinth, that, I must confess, I neither know how to correct my former opinions, nor how to render them consistent.

If this be not a good general reason for scepticism, 'tis at least a sufficient one if I were not already abundantly supplied for me to entertain a diffidence and modesty in all my decisions [Treatise, Appendix]. Thus, in the Treatise, the skeptical bottom line is that even our best theories about both physical and mental phenomena will be plagued with contradictions.

In the concluding section of his Enquiry, Hume again addresses the topic of skepticism, but treats the matter somewhat differently: He associates extreme Pyrrhonian skepticism with blanket attacks on all reasoning about the external world, abstract reasoning about space and time, or causal reasoning about matters of fact.

Theory of the Passions Like many philosophers of his time, Hume developed a theory of the passions—that is, the emotions —categorizing them and explaining the psychological mechanisms by which they arise in the human mind. His most detailed account is in Book Two of the Treatise. Passions, according to Hume, fall under the category of impressions of reflection as opposed to impressions of sensation.

Hume: Epistemology

He opens his discussion with a taxonomy of types of passions, which are outlined here: Calm reflective pleasures and pains 2. Direct desire, aversion, joy, grief, hope, fear b. Indirect love, hate, pride, humility He initially divides passions between the calm and the violent. He concedes that this distinction is imprecise, but he explains that people commonly distinguish between types of passions in terms of their degrees of forcefulness.

Adding more precision to this common distinction, he maintains that calm passions are emotional feelings of pleasure and pain associated with moral and aesthetic judgments. For example, when I see a person commit a horrible deed, I will experience a feeling of pain. When I view a good work of art, I will experience a feeling of pleasure. In contrast to the calm passions, violent ones constitute the bulk of our emotions, and these divide between direct and indirect passions.

For Hume, the key direct passions are desire, aversion, joy, grief, hope, and fear. For example, if I consider an unpleasant thing, such as being burglarized, then I will feel the passion of aversion. Others, though, are not connected with instinct and are more the result of social conditioning.

There is an interesting logic to the six direct passions, which Hume borrowed from a tradition that can be traced to ancient Greek Stoicism.

We can diagram the relation between the six with this chart: I will then desire to win the lottery and have an aversion towards being burglarized. Suppose that both situations are actually before me; I will then experience joy over winning the lottery and grief over being burglarized.

Suppose, finally, that I know that at some unknown time in the future I will win the lottery and be burglarized. I will then experience hope regarding the lottery and fear of being burglarized. Hume devotes most of Book 2 to an analysis of the indirect passions, his unique contribution to theories of the passions. The four principal passions are love, hate, pride, and humility.

Suppose, for example, that I paint a picture, which gives me a feeling of pleasure. Since I am the artist, I will then experience an additional feeling of pride. He explains in detail the psychological process that triggers indirect passions such as pride.

Specifically, he argues that these passions arise from a double relation between ideas and impressions, which we can illustrate here with the passion of pride: Through the associative principle of resemblance, I then immediately associate this feeling of pleasure with a resembling feeling of pride this association constitutes the first relation in the double relation.

According to Hume, the three other principal indirect passions arise in parallel ways. Reason, he argues, is completely inert when it comes to motivating conduct, and without some emotion we would not engage in any action.

Critics of religion during the eighteenth-century needed to express themselves cautiously to avoid being fined, imprisoned, or worse. Sometimes this involved placing controversial views in the mouth of a character in a dialogue. Other times it involved adopting the persona of a deist or fideist as a means of concealing a more extreme religious skepticism.

Hume used all of the rhetorical devices at his disposal, and left it to his readers to decode his most controversial conclusions on religious subjects. During the Enlightenment, there were two pillars of traditional Christian belief: Hume attacks both natural and revealed religious beliefs in his various writings.

Miracles In a letter to Henry Home, Hume states that he intended to include a discussion of miracles in his Treatise, but ultimately left it out for fear of offending readers.

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

It is probably this main argument to which Hume refers. The first of this two-part essay contains the argument for which Hume is most famous: Let us imagine a scale with two balancing pans.

In the first pan we place the strongest evidence in support of the occurrence of a miracle. In the second we place our life-long experience of consistent laws of nature.

According to Hume, the second pan will always outweigh the first. It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony [regarding miracles]; and it is the same experience, which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but subtract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder.

But according to the principle here explained, this subtraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire annihilation [Enquiry, Regardless of how strong the testimony is in favor of a given miracle, it can never come close to counterbalancing the overwhelming experience of unvaried laws of nature.

But even if a miracle testimony is not encumbered by these four factors, we should still not believe it since it would be contrary to our consistent experience of laws of nature.

He concludes his essay with the following cryptic comment about Christian belief in biblical miracles: Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience [Enquiry, At face value, his comment suggests a fideist approach to religious belief such as what Pascal recommends.

That is, reason is incapable of establishing religious belief, and God must perform a miracle in our lives to make us open to belief through faith. It is one of the first systematic attempts to explain the causes of religious belief solely in terms of psychological and sociological factors.

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

Whence could the religion and laws of this people [i. According to Adams, only divine intervention can account for the sophistication of the ancient Jewish religion. The work may be divided into three parts. In the first Sections 1 and 4Hume argues that polytheism, and not monotheism, was the original religion of primitive humans.

Monotheism, he believes, was only a later development that emerged with the progress of various societies. The standard theory in Judeo-Christian theology was that early humans first believed in a single God, but as religious corruption crept in, people lapsed into polytheism. Hume was the first writer to systematically defend the position of original polytheism. In the second part Sections, Hume establishes the psychological principles that give rise to popular religious belief.

His thesis is that natural instincts—such as fear and the propensity to adulate—are the true causes of popular religious belief, and not divine intervention or rational argument. The third part of this work Sections compares various aspects of polytheism with monotheism, showing that one is no more superior than the other. Both contain points of absurdity.

From this he concludes that we should suspend belief on the entire subject of religious truth.

David Hume

As the title of the work implies, it is a critique of natural religion, in contrast with revealed religion. There are three principal characters in the Dialogues. Finally, a character named Philo, who is a religious skeptic, argues against both the design and causal arguments.

The specific version of the causal argument that Hume examines is one by Samuel Clarke and Leibniz before him. Simplistic versions of the causal argument maintain that when we trace back the causes of things in the universe, the chain of causes cannot go back in time to infinity past; there must be a first cause to the causal sequence, which is God.

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Nevertheless, Clarke argued, an important fact still needs to be explained: Why does something exist rather than nothing? God, then, is the necessary cause of the whole series.

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

In response, the character Cleanthes argues that the flaw in the cosmological argument consists in assuming that there is some larger fact about the universe that needs explaining beyond the particular items in the series itself. Once we have a sufficient explanation for each particular fact in the infinite sequence of events, it makes no sense to inquire about the origin of the collection of these facts. That is, once we adequately account for each individual fact, this constitutes a sufficient explanation of the whole collection.

The specific version of the argument that Hume examines is one from analogy, as stated here by Cleanthes: The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance; of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man Dialogues, 2.

Philo presents several criticisms against the design argument, many of which are now standard in discussions of the issue. According to Philo, the design argument is based on a faulty analogy: Further, the vastness of the universe also weakens any comparison with human artifacts. Although the universe is orderly here, it may be chaotic elsewhere. Similarly, if intelligent design is exhibited only in a small fraction of the universe, then we cannot say that it is the productive force of the whole universe.

And even if the design of the universe is of divine origin, we are not justified in concluding that this divine cause is a single, all powerful, or all good being. He opens his discussion in the Treatise by telling us what moral approval is not: If morality is a question of relations, then the young tree is immoral, which is absurd.

Hume also argues that moral assessments are not judgments about empirical facts. Take any immoral action, such as willful murder: You will not find any such fact, but only your own feelings of disapproval. In this context Hume makes his point that we cannot derive statements of obligation from statements of fact.

This move from is to ought is illegitimate, he argues, and is why people erroneously believe that morality is grounded in rational judgments. Thus far Hume has only told us what moral approval is not, namely a judgment of reason. So what then does moral approval consist of?

humes metaphysics and epistemology relationship

It is an emotional response, not a rational one. The details of this part of his theory rest on a distinction between three psychologically distinct players: This agent-receiver-spectator distinction is the product of earlier moral sense theories championed by the Earl of ShaftesburyJoseph Butlerand Francis Hutcheson Most generally, moral sense theories maintained that humans have a faculty of moral perception, similar to our faculties of sensory perception.

Just as our external senses detect qualities in external objects, such as colors and shapes, so too does our moral faculty detect good and bad moral qualities in people and actions. For Hume, all actions of a moral agent are motivated by character traits, specifically either virtuous or vicious character traits. For example, if you donate money to a charity, then your action is motivated by a virtuous character trait.

Hume argues that some virtuous character traits are instinctive or natural, such as benevolence, and others are acquired or artificial, such as justice. As an agent, your action will have an effect on a receiver. For example, if you as the agent give food to a starving person, then the receiver will experience an immediately agreeable feeling from your act. Also, the receiver may see the usefulness of your food donation, insofar as eating food will improve his health.

When considering the usefulness of your food donation, then, the receiver will receive another agreeable feeling from your act. Finally, I, as a spectator, observe these agreeable feelings that the receiver experiences. I, then, will sympathetically experience agreeable feelings along with the receiver. These sympathetic feelings of pleasure constitute my moral approval of the original act of charity that you, the agent, perform.

By sympathetically experiencing this pleasure, I thereby pronounce your motivating character trait to be a virtue, as opposed to a vice. Suppose, on the other hand, that you as an agent did something to hurt the receiver, such as steal his car. There are, though, some important details that should also be mentioned. For Hume, the natural virtues include benevolence, meekness, charity, and generosity.

By contrast, the artificial virtues include justice, keeping promises, allegiance and chastity. Contrary to what one might expect, Hume classifies the key virtues that are necessary for a well-ordered state as artificial, and he classifies only the more supererogatory virtues as natural. The spectator might simply hear about it, or the spectator might even simply invent an entire scenario and think about the possible effects of hypothetical actions.

This happens when we have moral reactions when reading works of fiction: Third, although the agent, receiver, and spectator have psychologically distinct roles, in some situations a single person may perform more than one of these roles. For example, if I as an agent donate to charity, as a spectator to my own action I can also sympathize with the effect of my donation on the receiver. Finally, given various combinations of spectators and receivers, Hume concludes that there are four irreducible categories of qualities that exhaustively constitute moral virtue: For Hume, most morally significant qualities and actions seem to fall into more than one of these categories.

It is this concept and terminology that inspired classic utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham — Aesthetic, Political, and Economic Theory Hume wrote two influential essays on the subject of aesthetic theory. He particularly stresses the technical artistry involved when an artistic work imitates the original.

Specific objects consistently trigger feelings of beauty within us, as our human nature dictates. Just as we can refine our external senses such as our palate, we can also refine our sense of artistic beauty and thus cultivate a delicacy of taste. In spite of this uniform standard of taste, two factors create some difference in our judgments: In his theoretical discussions, he attacks two basic notions in eighteenth-century political philosophy: He concedes that in savage times there may have been an unwritten contract among tribe members for the sake of peace and order.

However, he argues, this was no permanent basis of government as social contract theorists pretend. There is nothing to transmit that original contract onwards from generation to generation, and our experience of actual political events shows that governmental authority is founded on conquest, not elections or consent.

We do not even tacitly consent to a contract since many of us have no real choice about remaining in our countries: For Hume, we have no primary instinct to recognize private property, and all conceptions of justice regarding property are founded solely on how useful the convention of property is to us.

We can see how property ownership is tied to usefulness when considering scenarios concerning the availability of necessities. When necessities are in overabundance, I can take what I want any time, and there is no usefulness in my claiming any property as my own. Further, if we closely inspect human nature, we will never find a primary instinct that inclines us to acknowledge private property.

David Hume (1711—1776)

It is nothing like the primary instinct of nest building in birds. While the sense of justice regarding private property is a firmly fixed habit, it is nevertheless its usefulness to society that gives it value. Two consistent themes emerge in these essays. First, in securing peace, a monarchy with strong authority is probably better than a pure republic.

Hume sides with the Tories because of their traditional support of the monarchy. Except in extreme cases, he opposes the Lockean argument offered by Whigs that justifies overthrowing political authorities when those authorities fail to protect the rights of the people. Hume notes, though, that monarchies and republics each have their strong points.

Monarchies encourage the arts, and republics encourage science and trade. Hume also appreciates the mixed form of government within Great Britain, which fosters liberty of the press.

Political moderation, he argues, is the best antidote to potentially ruinous party conflict. Locke even paraphrased the medieval "philosophy is the handmaiden of theology" into "philosophy is the handmaiden of the sciences". Hume's focus, on the other hand, is first on the human nature, specifically human reason, itself.

It is it that he wishes to subject to the "scientific method" first, and then decide what it is that science can and can not provide, and how what it does provide is to be properly understood. Locke amends the Aristotelian "scientia", as a collection of necessary truths connected by syllogisms, into something friendlier to the experimental approach, but he still retains it as an ideal attainable say in Euclidean geometry.

It is just the limitations of human senses in their penetration into the "real essences" that prevent us from attaining this ideal: Had we Senses acute enough to discern the minute particles of Bodies, and the real Constitution on which their sensible Qualities depend, I doubt not but they would produce quite different Ideas in us; and that which is now the yellow Colour of Gold, would disappear, and instead of it we should see an admirable Texture of parts of a certain Size and Figure.

Hume's prior analysis of human faculties leaves him far more sceptical than Locke about their fruits. He rejects the "innate capacity to reason", and his analysis of our sensory input convinced him that the "unities" which Locke and even Berkeley still saw there, were mere "bundles of perceptions" lumped together by frequent repetition. This included even the sacrosanct dogmas of the inner "unity of self", and the outer "chains of causation", retained by the experimental science from the traditional metaphysics.

Hume does single out mathematics as more trustworthy, but that is only because it covers "relations of ideas" only, and no "matters of fact". Contra Locke, it can not therefore serve as the ideal for empirical sciences.